Meatball Spinach & Ricotta Pasta

Now that September is upon us, I’m full of the joys of the autumnal season. It is, without doubt, my favourite month and time of the year. Beautiful golden leaves, the colour orange, the cooler days and bright skies, the fashion (scarfs, woolly socks, tights and jumpers), pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin spiced candles (well everything pumpkin spiced), blankets, books, hot chocolate, open fires, bonfire night and Halloween. Then there is fruit harvesting and picking, blackberries, apples and pears in abundance. What my husband likes most are the nuts!  But, without doubt, the thing I love the very most about autumn and September in particular is the comfort food. Pies, soups, stews and all things slow cooked… oh and brussels sprouts. Okay, that’s probably enough reasons to justify my love of autumn.

On the subject of comfort food, this is it at it’s very best. You can leave out the meatballs if you are vegetarian and it would still be a delicious hearty meal. The colours in this dish make it look even more Italian than it tastes. It’s a delicious combination of punchy tomato sauce as a base and giant pasta shells stuffed with beef meatballs, spinach and ricotta. It takes a little love and time to prepare, but not more than half an hour. Then it cooks slowly over about 45 minutes, so it’s a perfect weekend supper.

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This recipe will easily serve four hungry people, maybe even five.

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  • 16 giant pasta shells (Conchiglioni Rigate)
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Pinch chilli flakes
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • Small bunch of basil, chopped
  • Large bag of baby spinach
  • 1 tub of ricotta
  • 8 beef meatballs/seasoned minced beef
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 50g Parmesan, grated
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Start by boiling a large pan of salted water. Cook the pasta shells according to the packet instructions.
  2. Whilst the pasta is cooking prepare a large bowl of cold water with some ice. Once the pasta is cooked transfer it to the cold water to cool.
  3. Add the two of the garlic cloves, the onion and chilli flakes to a pan with some oil, cook for 5 minutes before adding the chopped tomatoes, seasoning and basil. Leave sauce to simmer (for about 20 minutes) while you prepare the spinach and ricotta.
  4. Add the remaining garlic to a fresh pan, cook for a few minutes before adding the spinach. You may have to add a little at a time and let it wilt down.
  5. Add the lemon zest, juice, Parmesan and the ricotta. Stir well.
  6. Remove the pasta shells from the water and pat off any excess water with kitchen towel.
  7. Transfer the tomato sauce to a large casserole dish.
  8. Take each pasta shell and add half a meatball, then spoon in the spinach and ricotta mix. Once stuffed place the pasta shells on to the tomato sauce in a row until the dish is filled. Cover with a grating of Parmesan.
  9. Bake in a preheated (180 degree) oven for around 45 minutes.
  10. Serve in a deep bowl.

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Japanese Vegetarian Ramen

I’ve long been a fan of Japanese ramen. It’s like a warm embrace in a steaming bowl of deliciousness and yesterday’s wet weather lent itself nicely to having a bowl for supper. The air has felt very autumnal over the past few days, which makes me incredibly happy. Cosy clothes, crisp mornings and bright blue skies, crimson leaves and steaming hot ramen recipes. What’s not to love? It is undoubtedly my favourite time of the year, for so many reasons, but mostly for the warming hearty food.

68729247_10162059490260557_7897040433102979072_n (1)There are many variations of Japanese ramen, using a different base for your broth, they pretty much all start out with a stock of some kind, usually pork. I used a mushroom stock for mine as I wanted a vegetarian version. I made a mushroom stock using dried mushrooms soaked in boiling water and opted for a Shoyu or ‘Soy Sauce’ flavoured ramen. The depth of flavour from the mushrooms is incredible.

You really can throw this together in just 15 minutes, and it’s so versatile, you can swap out your base broth and toppings depending on what you have in. You can use miso instead of soy, or teriyaki if you have it. In terms of toppings, pak choi, spring onion, bean sprouts and water chestnuts are all great. The best part for me is the boiled egg, when it soaks in the salty broth it’s just delicious.

Ingredients

  • 50g Shiitake mushrooms
  • 50g Exotic mushroons
  • 40g dried mushrooms, such as porcini
  • 100ml light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 small piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 stalk of pak choi
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 red chilli, finely sliced
  • Small bunch coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 nest of wholewheat egg noodles
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper

Method

  1. Soak the dried mushrooms in 500ml of boiling water for 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, boil one medium egg. Six minutes is perfect for that still slightly gooey yolk. When your egg has only 2 minutes left, set a steamer on top of the saucepan and pop in your pak choi.
  3. Add the soaked mushrooms in their stock to a pan, add the fresh mushrooms, the soy, rice wine vinegar and the noodles.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and a twist or two of freshly cracked black pepper.
  5. Leave the broth to simmer on a very low heat until the noodles are just cooked.
  6. Meanwhile peal the egg, cut in half and place in a deep serving bowl with the pak choi.
  7. Remove the noodles from the broth and place in the bowl, pour the hot broth and mushrooms into the bowl.
  8. Garnish with spring onion, chilli, coriander and sesame seeds.

Tex Mex Chicken Salad

Happy new year y’all. I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas. If it was anything like mine I’m sure you’ll have consumed far too much alcohol, turkey and chocolate, the same as every year, no doubt.

And in the same vein, the same as every January, I have a hankering for healthy food. I wanted to share with you my favorite salad recipe. I had a count up and I posted seven different versions of this recipe on my Instagram last year. SEVEN! So you know it’s been road tested and fine tuned to ensure maximum deliciousness.

It’s a combination of delicious Mexican flavours, and it has everything – chicken, spices, avocado (who doesn’t love it?) and a bit of punch and zing from the lime and fresh coriander. If you love Tex Mex food this will be right up your street. It’s even better washed down with Corona, but if you’re being healthy (new year, new you) perhaps not. This is sure to brighten up your January! Here’s to a happy and healthy 2019.

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This recipe serves two hungry people.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp Cajun spice
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 200g sweetcorn, drained and rinsed
  • Half a red onion, finely sliced
  • 3 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp of natural yoghurt
  • 140g bag of baby leaf salad
  • I lime, sliced into wedges
  • 1 Avocado, sliced
  • Small handful of salted tortilla chips
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 200 degrees (180 fan).
  2. Place the chicken on a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment paper, rub the chicken with the spices and season well. Place in the oven to cook for 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, wash the salad and place into a large salad bowl, top with the sliced avocado, sprinkle on the sweetcorn and the sliced red onion.
  4. Top with tortilla chips and chopped coriander.
  5. Remove the chicken from the oven, slice and place on top of the salad.
  6. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lime and a dollop of natural yoghurt.

Fragrant chicken with vibrant Asian slaw in lettuce wraps

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I’ve made this dish twice, once for my husband and once for my best friend. Both times I was met with amazing feedback, and I have to admit, it’s one of my best yet. I’m a huge fan of Asian flavours and this really has it all going on. It’s fresh, zingy and sweet. There are no carbs and the veggies are served raw so it’s super healthy. Using medium chillies in raw form adds a nice heat, not too much, but enough to let you know it’s an Asian dish. There is something fun about food you can eat with your hands, just load up the Romaine lettuce cups with crunchy Asian slaw and top with some sticky fragrant chicken. Roll it up and get stuck in.

This recipe is great for when you’re entertaining because everything can be prepared in advance. The slaw can be prepped and stored in a container in the fridge (undressed), the slaw dressing can be made and popped in a jar with a lid (no need to refrigerate). Prepare the chicken by slicing and covering with the marinade in a glass bowl, wrap with cling and store in the fridge until needed. When you’re ready you can have everything ready and on the table within minutes.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients, because some of it is store cupboard stuff and the rest is mostly just veggies. I’ll be entirely honest, the preparation takes a little longer than most dishes I cook, but it’s just a case of finely slicing the veggies. Why not stick the radio on and practice your knife skills one afternoon? You’ll be glad you spent the time when you taste how delicious this dish is. It’s like a party in your mouth, seriously!

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Just look at those colours. This dish makes me long for those fresh spring days that we all know are just around the corner. Why not brighten up a dull February day with this vibrant dinner?  If you’re veggie or vegan, this dish will work equally well with Quorn or Tofu. You can also leave out the nuts if need be, but they do add another welcome texture if you can have them.

Ingredients:

Marinade for chicken: 

  • 60ml teriyaki marinade (the thin kind)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • Thumb sized piece of ginger, minced
  • 1 medium chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 2 Romaine lettuces

Asian slaw:

  • 6 leaves of red cabbage, very finely sliced
  • 150g Bean sprouts
  • 1 medium red chilli, very finely sliced
  • 7 spring onions, very finely sliced
  • 1/2 a large carrot, , very finely sliced
  • 20g freshly chopped coriander
  • Small handful of roughly chopped peanuts

Reserve 2 finely sliced spring onions, a small handful of chopped coriander and a tsp of sesame seeds for garnish on the chicken once cooked

Dressing:

  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp honey

Instructions:

  1. Start by preparing the marinade for the chicken. Add the marinade ingredients to a glass bowl and add the diced chicken. Stir well to ensure the chicken is fully coated. Cover and store until needed.
  2. Chop the romainne lettuce in half, using the top sections (they look like little cups), set aside on a large platter.
  3. Mix the ingredients for the slaw dressing together and place in a bowl/dressing jar on the platter with the lettuce.
  4. Chop all of the slaw ingredients (except the bean sprouts) add to a bowl, leaving out the peanuts for garnish. Combine the ingredients and place in a large pile on the platter with the lettuce cups. Garnish the slaw with chopped peanuts and fresh coriander.
  5. Heat a little oil in a large pan (or wok), add the chicken and pour in any access marinade. Cook for about 8 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Mix the cornflour with a tbsp of water and stir this though the chicken until the sauce thickens.
  7. Place the cooked chicken on a serving plate and top with the spring onion, coriander and sesame seeds.
  8. Serve the chicken with the Romaine lettuce wraps and the Asian slaw, garnished with peanuts.

No bake cashew and coconut energy balls

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I’m always on the look out for healthy snacks that taste great, who isn’t? I remember when someone first recommended Nakd bars to me, I thought they looked unappetizing and like they would taste bland. To my surprise I actually liked them, the Cashew Cookie one being my favorite. Here’s my own version, but it’s seemingly trendy to make them into balls instead of bars, so that’s what I went with.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler, chuck everything into a food processor and whizz it up until you have thick sticky large crumbs. Roll them into balls using slightly damp hands and you’re done. Much more satisfying than buying them. I’m going to have a play around with flavour combinations because the possibilities are endless.

I made these using mostly ingredients I already had and only had to buy the dates, so they were super cheap. I love the combination of sticky sweetness from the dates and the crunch from the cashews, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. They make the perfect afternoon sweet treat, let’s face it, who doesn’t get a hankering for something sweet at around 3pm.

Ingredients

  • 250g soft pitted dates
  • 50g desiccated coconut
  • 50g unsalted cashew nuts
  • 2 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds (white or black)

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients into a food processor and process until the mixture resembles big stick crumbs
  2. Scoop out the mixture onto a clean worksurface and using damp palms, roll the mixture into even balls
  3. Store in an airtight container. They will last longer in the fridge

 

Mushroom toasts with bacon and bone marrow

toast close up

I’m kicking off my first recipe post on Nicole’s Kitchen Diary with these delicious mushroom toasts. I was lucky enough to salvage this recipe from my old blog, all thanks to my friend Joe who pointed me to a website that periodically scans and takes snap shots of sites. Lucky for you guys, because it’s one of my favorites and would make the perfect Valentine’s Day starter. Roasted bone marrow spooned over garlicky mushrooms and salty jewels of bacon and perfumed woody thyme… what’s not to love?

The inspiration for this recipe came from one of the best kitchen books you could own, The Flavour Thesaurus. It’s always on hand in my kitchen. If you’re a foodie and you’ve not heard of it or read it, I urge you to order a copy. As the title suggests, the book is set out like a thesaurus and is a bible of parings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook.

 Ingredients

  • 250g mushrooms (I used Chestnut and Shiitake), roughly chopped
  • 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped thyme
  • Splash of white wine
  • 2 disks of femur bone (bone marrow) – ask your butcher for this
  • 4 thick slices of sourdough bread
  • 1 tbsp each of butter and olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Turn the oven on to the highest temperature and pop in the bone marrow (in a roasting tin). It will take about 35-40 minutes.
  2. When the marrow has only 10 minutes from being done heat the butter and olive oil in a pan on a medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme, cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  4. Then add a splash of wine and allow to cook until reduced. Season to taste.
  5. Pop the slices of sourdough bread under the grill. Remove when lightly toasted and whilst still hot rub them with a garlic clove.
  6. Remove the bone marrow from the oven and carefully spoon out the soft marrow from the middle – stir this through the mushroom mix.
  7. Pile the mushroom mix on to the toasts and garnish with a little fresh thyme.
  8. Serve immediately.

Your setback is a platform for your comeback

I am the author (or was) of Miss Friday’s Feast, a food and cookery blog. I worked hard for five years to establish a blog that became home to many of my own recipes and ideas. The blog provided me with a space to air my views and share my love of food with the world.

Recently, for one reason or another (work, my two-year old, or just lack of enthusiasm), I had neglected writing my blog and allowed my hosting account to lapse, which meant my blog was taken offline – a bloggers worst nightmare. I had various issues trying to reinstate it. Alas, it’s gone – the domain name, the website, the posts, the recipes, my photos and five years of hard work to establish something I was immensely proud of.

Having spent a few days/weeks grieving the loss, I figured I’d turn the negative into a positive. You’ve heard the phrase right… ‘your set-back is a platform for your comeback’. So, here I am starting a fresh with Nicole’s Kitchen Diary.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment about how success happens, it’s called Black Box Thinking (by Matthew Syed) and I have to say, it’s true that a progressive attitude towards failure  turns out to be the cornerstone for success. So I’ve made sure that I apply the lessons I’ve learnt from this set-back. I have set my domain subscription to auto-renew, meaning it will not lapse if I (foolishly) forget to pay the renewal. I have also decided to keep my own back-ups of my recipes, photos and posts, something I should have done from the start.

When deciding to start a new blog I did what you would expect, I read articles and watched YouTube videos “10 things to consider before starting a blog” and “how to set your blog apart” I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point. I had to find my niche… or did I?

The web is saturated with healthy living blogs – In fact, run a quick Google search and you’ll get 5,480,000 results. I’m not knocking them, heck I read plenty of them, but that’s not me. I love cake too much, but I’m not the best baker, so that’s not going to work either. Veggie, vegan, raw food, free-from? – Let’s just stop there. Whilst I am a huge fan of healthy food, I’m not even entertaining the idea of cutting any food group out of my diet. So finding a niche was proving difficult. However, something I am hugely passionate about it a balanced lifestyle, one that involves fruit, vegetables, proteins, carbs, dairy, sugar (in moderation) and staying active. I think I just found that niche – beautifully balanced.

I decided on the name of Nicole’s Kitchen Diary as a total rip off of Nigel Slator. I’m a big fan of his general attitude towards food, a seemingly relaxed, non fussy approach. He eats what he has in the fridge or garden and experiments with flavours and textures. I also love his writing style – it’s free-flowing and liberating. I like the idea of being able to dip in-and-out of something like a blog. I’m not nearly disciplined enough in my personal life to operate to a schedule or routine. I have a two-year old which often makes the very notion of routine a laughable idea.

So, take me as you find me, haphazard, unscheduled and unapologetic.